Toronto Ketubah Artist Interview – Shannie Van Buren-Bresgi
I first met Shannie with her husband Steve during our meeting before their wedding back in 2015. Shannie mentioned she is a Toronto Ketubah artist, but it wasn’t until her wedding day that I understood how talented she is and how unique her designs are. With the Ketubah being the most important document in a Jewish marriage it is understandable why so many Jewish couples are looking for a handmade, one of a kind, ketubah design.
A few weeks ago I visited Shannie in her studio. We had a nice chat about ketubahs and what does it take to make them.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Shannie Van Buren-Bresgi, I am a Toronto Ketubah Artist, the founder and sole artist behind Mural Mural on the Wall. Five years ago I felt inspired to share visual stories through my art by designing and painting murals for children. This was how I began to share my vivid imagination, and bring bright colours and uplifting images to hospitals, schools, offices and children’s rooms. As I began painting more and grew my business, I was also developing a reputation and great friendships with some of my adult clients. They commented on how much they adored their children’s custom art and wished they had an excuse to customise a piece for them that spoke with so many symbols. Through these growing relationships with parents and their friends, I became introduced to the world of Ketubah design. I was at a stage in my life when many of my friends were getting married. I therefore decided to gift a Ketubah, of my design, to my best friend for her 2013 wedding. She and her husband are also the creative and artistic type, so I wanted to create something that was colourful and free-spirited, something that spoke to them. I wanted their ketubah design to not only represent a stereotypical Jewish marriage license but to be a piece of art that talked about who they are as a couple. I illustrated for them a playful “Dr Seuss” inspired like trees, placed in the midst of a colourful, whimsical forest.
From then on, through word of mouth, I gained a reputation as a young local ketubah artist who could customise a design to couples and give a whole new meaning to Judaic art.
What is a Ketubah Artist?
Today, the ketubah is essentially one of the primary forms of Jewish art. Most likely it is hung prominently in the home by the married couple as a daily reminder of their love, marriage vows, and responsibilities to each other. Often it is the first piece of art that a couple would buy together, and in some families, it becomes a valuable gift to be passed down for generations to come.
What makes your Ketubahs unique?
The most common feedback I receive from my happy clients is that the vibrant colours I used and the technique I use to apply them make the Ketubah come to life. When I first show my clients their completed Ketubah I find so much joy in watching them take it all in; their eyes wander off as they search for all the hidden symbols that are uniquely theirs and imagery that I incorporate into every design. I would say that this is the most gratifying feeling for me. Knowing that I created not only a ketubah design but artwork that can excite the couple and make them proud to not only show off on their wedding day but hang on their wall for the rest of their lives together. I do include Judaic symbols, upon request, but I particularly focus on modernising the design to be a bit more current so that it will speak to each couple. Only they will know the little messages I leave behind for them, and I enjoy that emotional connection because they share that together as a newlywed couple.
Can you describe the full process of a Ketubah design, and working with a couple from start to finish?
When I first discuss a new Ketubah design, I usually like to meet with the couple in person. This way I get to hear their stories, how they met, any special moments or places they’ve been to together, and then I let them get carried away with the storytelling. It helps my imagination go off, and I begin to brainstorm ideas. I write down notes in my notebook with some ideas and share my thoughts with them for design. I usually bring a portfolio with me so I can show the different range of designs and styles we can work with, from watercolour to acrylic to pencil crayon. This way it helps them create a visual. I also provide samples of papers in different sizes so they get a rough idea of material they can choose from for their final design. When we come to an agreement on the size and material of the ketubah design, I begin working on sample outline concept sketches for them to review together. I love to leave them enough time to go over the concept design and discuss whether they are happy, or leave room for any revisions. This way, there are no unexpected surprises for the final design. I don’t think bride and grooms want too many surprises on their special day.
Going forward, I receive their completed Ketubah text from their rabbi; I send it off to print on canvas paper and begin to work on their final design by painting around their text. It will take anywhere from 16 to 24 hours of painting to get to the final Ketubah (depending on how large the scale of art is).
Where can future brides and grooms see your work?
I share most of my Ketubah designs through social media. Mainly Facebook, Instagram and my website. The fun part about Instagram is that I enjoy posting the daily process of each ketubah design. So my followers get a sneak peek at videos and pictures of me brainstorming sketch designs to the very end of the final product. I find friends and followers enjoy watching everything come together from start to finish. I also receive comments and feedback from other artists and designers, from around the world.
Do you offer different sizes of ketubahs?
Yes. My clients can choose between three different dimensions: 19”x13”, 18”x24” and 24”x30”. All ketubahs painted on a quality hot-pressed canvas paper with or without ribbed edges.
How much do you charge for your custom made Ketubahs?
Pricing varied for each Ketubah design and based primarily on the extent of how intricate the final illustration design will be. The average minimum cost of a ketubah design begins at $850 and upwards.